Monday 14 August 2017

Why Duterte is "like that" to the United States

The Philippines and the United States of America have a mutual defense treaty that has been in effect since 1952. The US is the Philippines only guarantee if and when armed conflict explodes in the West Philippine Sea (photo credit to the owner)
A foreign journalist Mr. Jonathan M. Katz wrote a very straightforward article titled “The Legacy of a Century-Old War Is Reshaping Power in the Pacific”  (Politicians in the Philippines wonder how long they can rely on the United States.)  regarding the US- Phil relations under the Duterte administration especially in the view where the Philippine president keeps on bringing out past American sins in the era where geo-political relations in Asia are fast changing.

I have quoted some of the passages from the said article  from the, below:

On Monday, on the sidelines of a diplomatic summit in Manila, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the MalacaƱan. The white Spanish colonial palace on the banks of the Pasig River has survived earthquakes, typhoons, fires, riots, and the thoroughly devastating U.S. bombing of the capital during World War II. These days, the turmoil comes mostly from the inside, thanks to its current occupant, and Tillerson’s host, President Rodrigo Duterte. For their meeting, the combative Filipino leader put aside his bombast. He greeted the American emissary with performative meekness, shuffling his feet and introducing himself as “your humble friend in Southeast Asia.”

It seemed Duterte had done a complete 180 from just two weeks before. Back on July 21, after a U.S. congressional commission condemned his lethal crackdown on impoverished drug users, which has killed at least 7,000 people, the Filipino president called a hasty hallway press conference to bring up one of his favorite topics: the United States’s ugly past. “You’re investigating me and the internal affairs of my country? I’m investigating you,” he jabbed. “I will start with your past sins. I will produce—from your archives—the photographs that you took of the people you murdered here in the Philippines.”

Duterte’s lessons in living history are just as strategic. Following his July outburst, U.S. news outlets struggled to interpret his reference to America’s “past sins.” But Filipinos knew what he meant. Though Americans have spent a century trying to forget it, the United States’s path to global power began in the Philippines in 1898, when, on the eve of their joint victory in the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley betrayed his Filipino allies, ignored their declaration of independence, and launched his own annexation campaign of the archipelago.

The U.S. colonization of the Philippines transformed both countries in language, culture, and politics. It ended only after much of the archipelago’s infrastructure and cities were destroyed in World War II—a conflict whose Pacific component the U.S. domination of the Philippines helped provoke in the first place.

For decades since, Filipino leaders avoided talking about the atrocities America would rather forget. The colonial relationship, and particularly the U.S. alliance that ended the far briefer and more vicious Japanese occupation of the 1940s, had forged a close strategic bond. And besides, as long as the U.S. remained the most powerful force in the neighborhood, there was little point in reminding them they had once been mortal enemies.

But now another power is emerging closer to the Philippines’s shores. China is projecting force for the first time in modern history, with bold moves into the South China Sea, which separates the Chinese mainland from the Philippines. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has built up several uninhabited islands in the sea into bases with airstrips, radar, and antiaircraft guns. Duterte has been forced to flirt with the possibility of armed conflict with his huge, nuclear-armed neighbor over the Spratlys, a set of uninhabited glorified rocks that belong to the Philippines and Vietnam, but whose fishing, oil, commercial sea-lane, and military potential have led China to claim them as their own.

While the U.S. shuttered its air and naval bases in the Philippines in the 1990s—when the end of the Cold War coincided with damage to the most important installations from the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo—the Philippines remains strategically important. Washington would very much like to keep the archipelago in its Pacific orbit, part of a constellation of clients and subdued former enemies, including South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, that can act as a buffer and if need be a launchpad against anyone in Asia.

But Filipinos have doubts today’s United States can be relied on to come to the their defense. “Do you really think America will come to our aid over the Spratlys?” the powerful senator Richard “Dick” Gordon, a Duterte ally, asked me during a recent interview in Manila. Gordon, the grandson of a U.S. Marine and veritable godfather of the district that includes the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay, knows about the power, and remorseless pragmatism, of the country at the eastern edge of the Pacific. “There is always that gray area that is reserved for those who have more power and more influence from those of us who have less,” he told me. “So how can you rely on America’s promise?”

In an April phone call focused on bringing allies together to keep North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program in check, Duterte repeatedly shrugged off Trump’s blustering attempts at reminding him of U.S. power in the Pacific. At every turn, he responded with his intention to turn to Beijing, not Washington, to settle the crisis. “Yes, at the end of the day, the last card, the ace has to be with China. It’s only China,” he told the American president, according to a transcript obtained by The Intercept.

Trump didn’t disagree. At the end of the conversation, he invited the Filipino leader to visit the White House. (Duterte later said he was probably too busy to come.)

In that light, when Duterte brings up the brutal U.S. wars and occupations that frame the Philippines’s past, he is not just dredging up historical trivia, or even just engaging in whataboutism to distract from his own abuses—even if the comments also have that effect. He is reminding anyone who understands of the heavy price Americans and Filipinos paid for the United States’s first strategic foothold in Asia, and what America may now owe in return. Meanwhile, he is reminding Filipinos that Americans have not always been their friends, laying the groundwork for a rift as priorities change.







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